The Real Reason Why Facebook is Accounting for Time Spent

In early June, Facebook announced the latest algorithm change: it will now not just factor in Likes, Comments, or Shares – it will also account for the amount of time a user spends with the content.  The argument, “We learned that in many cases, just because someone didn’t Like, Comment, or Share a story in their News Feed doesn’t mean it wasn’t meaningful to them”.

As someone who is a constant consumer of content and someone who chooses my engagement wisely, I understand the concept that just because I don’t share or comment on something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t impact me.

From a marketing perspective, I’m a little more skeptical.  Why would Facebook, a company that has preached at nauseaum about the importance of creating engaging content for the newsfeed now broaden their definition of engagement?  Here’s one possible motivation.

Facebook is trying to inflate its “active users” metric as active usage declines

Being a publicly traded company means Facebook has added pressure to make its growth, visit counts, and active users stay strong. Even though we have all heard that younger audiences are gravitating to chat apps and messaging applications, and that teen audiences are tiring of Facebook, Facebook’s reported numbers continue to appear strong.

How is this possible?  One method is to introduce Facebook products like Facebook Lite that appeal to developing countries to expand Facebook growth numbers and active user metrics in new places.

Another way Facebook can protect its user metrics is by including more passive social networking activities like time spent.  After all, if Facebook can continue to boast in active users (by broadening the definition of active usage), it can attempt to shut up the skeptics.  A third-party survey by GlobalWebIndex attempted to uncover this by conducting a survey of Facebook users.  In this survey, GlobalWebIndex defined active usage as a user who says they have actively used or contributed to the service in the past month.  Under this definition, you can more clearly see that while membership and visits remain steady, there is a clear decline in active usage of the network.



What does this mean for marketers?

With this data, marketers don’t need to flee from Facebook, but be aware of what these changes may mean.

  • As multi-networking is on the rise, engagement may be lower on key platforms as users begin using multiple social networks to engage.
  • Passive social networking isn’t going away. Facebook still boasts strong visitation, showing there is still something about Facebook that users find valuable to come back to.  Coming out of this movement, we’ll start to see more and more metrics to help show the value of content consumption and time spent with content.
  • Marketers should take another look at engagement goals. If more and more Facebook users begin simply consuming content, engagement-oriented goals will be impacted greatly.

Ignite Social Media